Free NHS treatment to be pared back by 2020

The continued unhealthy lifestyles of people means that the NHS has no choice other than to pare back some of the free treatment that we currently receive and penalise unhealthy behaviours, warns Friends Provident in its Visions of Britain 2020, a report conducted with the Future Foundation.

Experts condemn Government health campaigns as failing to persuade individuals to live healthier lifestyles.  But legislation to curb smoking has been hugely successful; so Visions of Britain suggests that penalties are a likely solution to help relieve the current strain that unhealthy behaviours place on the NHS.  The report predicts that it is only a matter of time before similar legislation to the smoking ban will be imposed to curb obesity.

Dr Sarah Brewer says, "We all know that we should follow a healthy low fat diet, eat at least 5-a day etc.  But how many actually do anything about it?  Unless an unhealthy diet and lifestyle is penalised in some way no one will change. Something has to give. One scenario is that people may well end up being charged for certain treatments or denied certain non-essential treatment, particularly if their unhealthy lifestyle was a contributory factor. The other scenario is the withdrawal of many free treatments.”

As well as penalties, experts consulted for the report predict that a range of treatments will no longer be free in 2020, including:

  • IVF and fertility treatment
  • Subsidised dental treatment
  • Obesity surgery and drugs
  • Dementia treatment
  • Complementary therapies

Dr Patricia Macnair adds, “There will be less and less money coming from the state to help people maintain their health, so something needs to give, and increasingly it will be up to us to take responsibility for our own health. In addition there will be endless paring away in subtle degrees at the funding for all sorts of different treatments - although this may be subtle the changes will be profound."

Experts and consumers agree that unhealthy lifestyles should be penalised when it comes to treatment, with almost half supporting the introduction of a fat tax and over a third agreeing that that NHS should not prioritise people who fail to look after their health.

Trevor Matthews of Friends Provident comments, “There will be a fundamental and permanent change in the provision of free healthcare in the next decade.  The study identifies a disconnect between our aspirations for healthcare, and our behaviour. We all need to adopt healthier lifestyles or else risk being faced with penalties in the years ahead."

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